Dissent, Conscience, and the Wall

Dissent, Conscience, and the Wall (DCW) is a project run by the European University College Association (EucA) and Netherhall Educational Association (NEA) between October 2014 and March 2016.

The project marked 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, on 9th November 1989, and 10 years since the EU enlargement. The project consisted of three symposia, two in London and one in Brussels, culminating in a plenary conference at the end, held in Brussels.

The project has been co-funded by the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union.



The first symposium was held at the Thomas More Institute, London. It had been preceded by a preparatory seminar for UK-based students, with a paper delivered on 8th November at the Thomas More Institute by Dr. Martin Meenagh, ‘Freiheit Abgesperrt: The Berlin Wall and the Disputed Cause of Liberty During the Latter Cold War’.

The aims of the later Symposium were both to launch the project across the EU and to examine the first of three themes in chronological order – ‘Pre-1989 Tolerance of Dissent and Freedom of Conscience on Either Side of the Iron Curtain’.

Edward Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist, with considerable experience of countries to the east pre-1989 gave an expert presentation titled, ‘The Power of the Powerless: Past Struggles and their Current Lessons’. Three panels of three/four students each gave individual 10-minute short presentations of their longer papers, and examined very effectively historical, philosophical, or cultural aspects of the overall theme. Some of the Powerpoint slides were very impressive indeed. Examples included the Girmann Group, Joachim Gauck, the role of intellectuals, the Solidarity movement, science, and censorship. There were round-table discussions and Q&A sessions during the day. The conversations over lunch and dinner, and in the coffee breaks was in many ways even deeper.

The students certainly took their opportunities to network and link with colleagues studying in other EU countries.The standard of the non-UK students’ English was most impressive, indicating that the selection process had been effective. At the end of the formal proceedings the Chairman ran a brief session seeking feedback from participants. Their suggestions were noted by both TMI and EUCA representatives with a view to improving the planned future events of the Project. It was felt, in particular, that more time should be given to open floor discussions, even at the expense of very impressive expert and student presentations.

The event involved 72 participants from 12 different countries (1 participants from Belgium, 42 from UK, 2 from Hungary, 5 from Italy, 4 from Germany, 1 from Romania, 2 from Croatia, 6 from Spain, 6 from Poland, 1 from Lithuania, 1 from Netherlands, 1 from Greece).


The aim of the event was to focus on the second chronological theme of the project, ‘The Role of Conscience and Dissent in Bringing About the Fall of the Berlin Wall (and Raising of the Iron Curtain) in and around 1989’, and to identify key ethical aspects of freedom of conscience and toleration of dissent as relating to the Wall (and/or Curtain more generally). It was intended, without being over-strict, that papers should concentrate on the year 1989 and the years immediately surrounding it.

The expert speakers were: Mr Pavel Trantina, a member of Mr Vaclav Havel’s cabinet during his tenure as President of Czechoslovakia, and Prof. Harald Wydra, Fellow of St. Catherine’s College, University of Cambridge, whose keynote address was titled, ‘Making Europe from the Margins Before 1989: The Politics of Conscience and the Fall of the Berlin Wall’.

In the afternoon, five student panellists focused on 3 aspects in their paper presentations: how peaceful resistance brought about a shift in power; which were the new places for politics (since there was no public space); and what was the role of intellectuals in the fall of the wall.

Panels were followed by debates. To provide a wider understanding of the period that led to the fall, and in some measure to face with first-hand experience the dilemmas and risks faced by dissenters, the project partners organized on 26th February a round of British Parliamentary Debate. From five motions proposed, students chose three through a poll on Facebook for debate in Brussels. They signed up for teams (government or opposition) and collaborated online before the Symposium with other members of their group. They use preparatory documents project partners had provided (bibliography and contextual material for each motion). The chosen motions were: 1. dissidents who rebelled had superior moral qualities; 2. Stasi collaborators should be sanctioned; 3. a dissident leaving his or her country does not contribute to the reform process.

The event involved 61 participants from 12 different countries (12 participants from Belgium, 9 from UK, 2 from Hungary, 10 from Italy, 3 from Germany, 3 from Romania, 2 from Estonia, 2 from Croatia, 6 from Spain, 3 from Poland, 2 from Lithuania, 3 from Netherlands, 4 from Portugal).


The Symposium was hosted once again by the Thomas More Institute in London. This time, however, we deliberately chose a more informal setting in place of the auditorium which had house the first event in November, and this proved a great success, with students generally agreeing that it made for a freer flow of discussion. The UK students who attended right in the middle of the public examination season in London were manifestly committed and interested.

The aim of the event was examine the third theme (roughly chronological) of the Project: ‘Changing Perceptions of Conscience, and of Tolerance of Dissent, in Europe since 1989’. Dr. Martin Meenagh gave the first expert talk on ‘Conscience versus Reciprocity in the European Public Sphere since 1989’. The second expert speaker was Dr Gunnar Beck, Reader in Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. This speaker, a German and the last doctoral student of the late Sir Isaiah Berlin in Oxford, titled his talk, ‘Democracy and the Rule of Law in Europe Twenty-Five Years On’. The speakers, taking up very different vantage-points, were provocative and really succeeded in stirring the students to intervene.

Two panels of two students each gave short presentations around the theme of the day, allowing this time ample time for discussion, with the two expert speakers agreeing to chair the round-table discussions. Topics presented included the role of the internet in facilitating dissent, President Putin’s actions and intentions, and other aspects of post-cold war Europe. Dinner in the evening was extremely lively with young people from very varied backgrounds engaging in free-flowing discussion and argument.

The event involved 53 participants from 12 different countries (3 participants from Belgium, 30 from UK, 2 from Hungary, 5 from Italy, 1 from Germany, 2 from Romania, 2 from Croatia, 2 from Portugal, 1 from Lithuania, 2 from Netherlands, 2 from Greece, 1 from Estonia).


The closing event of our “Dissent, Conscience and the Wall” Project was held at Cervantes Institute in Brussels on December 10th, 2015.

It was the chance to bring all the themes addresses in the previous symposia on the table and discussed them with distinguished panellists.

Speakers in final event includedMr Toomas Hiio, from Estonian Institute of Historical Memory; Mr Matthias Müller, from Saxony Liaison Office in Brussels; Dr Stefan Gehrold, Director of the European Office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Brussels; Dr Markus Prutsch, Administrator at the EU Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies of the Union; Dr Andrea Mork, Curatorial coordinator for the House of European History.

Their interventions were followed by intense question-and-answer sessions. The main takeaway of the event was a call to students to become more active European citizens and make theirs the African proverb written on the East Side Gallery on the Berlin Wall: “Many small people who in many small places do many small things can change the face of the world”.

The forthcoming realisation of 1) an online permanent journal on topics related to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the role of conscience and dissent in society and the consequences of 2004 EU enlargement, and of 2) the summary of the policy recommendations collected during the whole project were announced.

The event involved 57 participants from 12 different countries (13 participants from Belgium, 9 from UK, 3 from Hungary, 7 from Italy, 4 from Germany, 2 from Croatia, 1 from Portugal, 9 from Spain, 3 from Estonia, 2 from Poland, 2 from Netherlands, 2 from Greece).


–  DCW Blog (now permanent site) https://dcw25.wordpress.com

–  Flipboard Magazine http://flip.it/Ek4mT

–  Report of the project results (see attachments here and here)

–  Policy Recommendations (forthcoming)